The Myth of the Born Leader: A conversation with Manfred Gollent

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Manfred Gollent wants the Upstate business community to know one thing: No one is born a leader. To hear Gollent explain it, every leader was once a student — a student who had to learn from others, other leaders in particular. Still, no matter how much experience you get, no matter how many people you lead, the learning never stops. According to Gollent, leadership must continue to be developed; it must continue to be honed.

Recently, Upstate Business Journal Publisher Ryan Johnston sat down with the certified business coach and founder of QLI International to learn more about good leadership and the myth of the born leader. These are the excerpts.

The Green Years

I got tossed into a leadership role very early managing a discotheque in my early 20s together with a partner. These were wild days, and I was quite green at the time. There were some hard lessons for me.

When I came to my senses and began to work in my profession as an engineer for a few years, I paid attention to the leaders around me and concluded that I would not want to lead like them.

I had through the 35-plus years of my corporate career many opportunities to learn and acquire leadership skills, as my employers generously supported leadership development.

While I never had the opportunity to work with a professional coach, I had great supervisors and role models supporting my own development. In retrospect, most of them had a knack for coaching and mentoring, which was great for me.

Failing Leaders = Failing Organizations

In an organization that is successful, it always requires effective leadership, and the whole organization must be positively engaged to create that success. It requires the combination of leadership and the whole organization to become successful.

In a failing organization, you must focus on the leadership only. The responsibility lies with the leadership.

I understand this sounds unfair, but who defines strategy? Who hires and develops the workforce? Who manages processes and procedures? Who decides on products and services? The leadership of the organization.

If leadership could be successful without the people, they would not hire them in the first place.

Leadership Defined

My definition of leadership is very simple: Leadership is creating results through people. That is the whole secret. If we accept that definition, we embark on a fantastic journey of progress, success, and personal development. It leads also to an important conclusion: Leadership is not about the leader but about those that are led.

There is this notion of the “born leader.” I am sure you have heard that, too. I do not subscribe to that. The born leader is a myth. Think of someone you admire and respect for being a great leader. What are the three most important leadership traits you can identify, and ask yourself which of these traits is genetically inherited. You won’t find one, which means these traits have been developed and acquired in some way at some time. It also means one can acquire them at any time one choses to do so. It requires only some humbleness to learn, as well as the investment of the time, effort, and possibly money to make it happen.

Effective leadership is not a gift; it is a choice.

Learning the Craft

Being serious about becoming a leader results in the recognition that leadership is a specific profession, a craft that needs to be treated like that. It requires its own skill set, traditionally not acquired in a scholastic environment. Yet the impact, good or bad, of leadership is fundamental for any organization.

Leaders are multipliers by default, hopefully multipliers of productivity and progress. However, hope is not a strategy.

Let me be candid. Watching a good video on leadership or certain leadership tools is better than doing nothing. The challenge with that is simply in the fact that you may not be able to transition what you have just learned from the video into an effective sustainable routine to create results through people.

Working with a professional leadership coach one-on-one is likely the most powerful and expedited process toward sustainable leadership effectiveness, creating the most impact on your ability to create results.

Changing the Way We Think

In the 1990s, leadership coaching was predominantly used as a remedial tool, to fix what was broken. Back then, if you got a coach as a manager or executive, it was an indication of a significant deficiency that needed to be repaired. It was almost a stigma.

Today, most organizations utilize leadership coaching as a developmental process to further enhance leadership effectiveness and accelerate the development process. Leadership coaching has become mostly an opportunity for individuals to maximize their potential and increase the speed of personal development and progress.

The coaching process is evolving, too, as research creates knowledge about the way our brain works. Our behavior creates our results, and we act the way we think. Consequently, if we want enhanced results, we need to change the way we think. A professional coach challenges the client’s thinking patterns.

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